Commentary

At what point do transplant fans deserve to get grief?

Updated: February 15, 2008, 6:44 PM ET
By Terry Frei | Special to ESPN.com

The fans take the Blackhawks jerseys out of drawers or off hangers. The jerseys might have Jeremy Roenick's, Tony Amonte's or Chris Chelios' name and former number on the backs, because those were the most recent good ol' days. Maybe the fans don't like the new style or the price tag of the jerseys, but they know, at some point, they will update to Patrick Kane or Jonathan Toews models.

Then, they head for the arena, joining friends -- even instant friends they've never met before -- who consider the Hawks and such things as Nancy Faust, Big Al's and the train ride in from Evanston to be parts of their heritage.

As they high-five following Blackhawks goals or merely walk down the concourse, they accept not only the good-natured teasing, but also brave the withering looks, the snide comments, and maybe even a spray or two of beer from other fans.

[+] EnlargeBlackhawks Fans
Bill Wippert/NHLI/Getty ImagesTransplant fans -- friend or foe?

They're not in Chicago.

They're in any other NHL arena.

Maybe it's Raleigh or Tampa or Denver or Southern California or San Jose or Columbus or Nashville or … virtually anywhere else. They've paid their $74 per seat or put the first claim in on the company tickets for that game the second the schedule came out.

And, of course, the road team in question doesn't have to be (and usually isn't) the Blackhawks.

It plays out at virtually every NHL game, especially in the U.S., with the Red Wings, Sabres, Rangers, Flyers, Blues … and on and on. I'm not talking about the affluent Rangers fan who still lives in New Rochelle, taking a California junket to San Jose, Los Angeles and Anaheim for games in late January. I'm talking about the fans who have moved to another market, often out of choice, and take great pleasure in flaunting their retained athletic loyalties to advertise that they're citizens only on the driver's licenses.

Usually, it involves a franchise with deep roots, but not always, because fan affinity simply can come from picking out a team without geography or tradition as major issues. Maybe someone is the great nephew of the Igloo's original Zamboni driver and despite never having been to Pittsburgh, always has rooted for the Penguins.

Hockey fans often are good-natured, tolerant and accepting of it.

But at what point do the fans of the "other" teams have it coming? At what point do they deserve to get grief?

Yeah, sometimes -- sometimes, not always -- the relocated fans of the "other" team might deserve it. When they cross the line to obnoxiousness. When they act as if they believe anyone who actually has deep-rooted affection for the area just fell off the turnip truck. When they act as if their new area's history didn't begin until they did the area the favor of moving there. When they come off as fans who might not even have cared as much about (fill in team name) when they lived in (fill in city) until they moved somewhere else and could flaunt their non-native status. And when they aren't smart enough to at least have an inkling that if rooting for the opposing team seems to reflect any of that, rather than simple and genuine affection for a team, they at least should be self-conscious.

That's when they have it coming.

Not the beer, but at least the disdain.

It's a gauche, lowbrow, unrealistic view, and I should be both more pragmatic and understanding of the All-American phenomenon. Embracing one team of mercenary athletes over another team of mercenary athletes is not the measure of commitment to a community. I know that. And I should know better.

It's still how I feel.

Those "visiting team" fans deserve it when they're obnoxious transplants whose retained childhood or family-roots sports loyalties are part of a more aggravating bigger-picture attitude.

That attitude can be summed up as a complete lack of sensitivity or concern about how galling it all can be to natives who in their course of everyday life are reminded at every turn that 87 percent of their metro area can seem to be made up of transplants.

We're a mobile society. I don't live in my native area, either. There's nothing "wrong" with moving somewhere, whether reluctantly for work reasons or even because you patented the greatest invention in the history of the world (the ATM card) and decided that moving into a Bel Air mansion was the way to go, and then retaining sports franchise loyalties.

But …

It's so aggravating to have to put up with folks who act as if the history of the area, especially when it's an area those folks have chosen to move to, didn't begin until they moved there.

Believe it or not, there are some Southern California natives. A few, not many. Some of them are hockey fans who, depending on their ages, grew up on the old Western League Blades or the Triple Crown line or the arrival of The Great One. There are Colorado natives, who not only remember when Wilf Paiement and Barry Beck were the cornerstones of the original Colorado Rockies, but also when Loveland Pass and not the Eisenhower Tunnel was the major way to get to the ski areas or to the Western Slope. There are Bay Area natives whose parents debated who was better, Willie McCovey or Orlando Cepeda, and who went to Sharks games in the Cow Palace. There are Hurricanes fans in the Research Triangle or Lightning fans in the Tampa Bay region who either are natives or decided to sign on and make the emotional attachments to the teams when they arrived.

Of course, to folks in those areas, it can seem that 3.2 million folks from Detroit, New York, Boston, Philadelphia and even Buffalo have landed in their midst, and always end up in their sections in the arenas.

And I don't blame those natives for wondering:

1. How come there are 14.2 million folks who have moved from those, ahem, more traditional hockey markets to Los Angeles or Denver or San Jose or Raleigh or Tampa -- yet there seems to be about 11 (eleven, period) folks who have moved from those "newer" hockey markets to, say, Boston, Detroit or Chicago?

2. Why do folks move someplace, then spend 87 percent of their time bragging about how great the place they left was? If it's that important to them, why not move mountains, so to speak, to move back?

3. How come the transplants with retained childhood athletic loyalties don't have any idea about how aggravating they can be? This might be the most significant point of all: They're the most aggravating when their attitudes come with the kicker beliefs that their friends who dare to switch their loyalties to local teams, or have rooted for the local team or teams all along, are saps.

Absolutely, there are fans in Raleigh who root for the Hurricanes -- except for the four times they play the Rangers.

But they're in the minority.

Again: I will concede there's nothing wrong with -- and it even can add spice to a game -- having good-natured fans of the "opposing" team in the seats, and hearing the teasing go back and forth. To various extents, it's part of the dynamic at every NHL game. Twenty guys wearing the winged wheel, with only Brian Rafalski from Michigan, going against the defending Stanley Cup champions, none of them native Californians, in the Honda Center? That does not set up a test for good Orange County citizenship. This involves selecting one group of mercenaries over another, not moving to one area and refusing to pay taxes or mind the laws because it's not the area named on the birth certificate. This is sports, not life. I know that.

But: Sometimes they've got it coming.

Terry Frei is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He is the author of the just-released "'77" and "Third Down and a War to Go."

Terry Frei

Special to ESPN.com
Terry Frei is a columnist for the Denver Post. He is also the author of "Third Down and a War to Go" and "Horns, Hogs, and Nixon Coming."